The Mysticism of Goddess Sarasvati in Balinese Tradition

Sarasvati and Sarasvati Day

Balinese treatises on sacred days and related rituals in that day are entitled Sundarigama. In that manuscript, it is said that on the Day of Saniscara Umanis, Wuku Watugunung, is referred to as a sacred day for Sang Hyang Sarasvati (Goddess Sarasvati). 

This day falls on the last day of the seven-day cycle (Saturday) in the last of 30 Wuku (Watugunung) in the Balinese calendar. The day after Saraswati Day, the cycle returns to the first Wuku, namely Wuku Sinta. On Saraswati Day, Balinese people usually worship their books or lontar (palm leaf manuscripts). According to tradition, on this day it is also not allowed to read books/lontar.

Saraswati is one of the popular goddesses in both Saiwa and Bauddha traditions. In the Hindu (Pauranic) tradition, Saraswati is the Sākti of Lord Brahma, the Creator. Later in the Vajrayana Tantric tradition, Saraswati is one aspect of the Goddess Tara.

Two Body of Knowledge

In Balinese Traditions, the figure of Saraswati is associated with the “Goddess of Speech” as well as the goddess of knowledge. In the opening of the Kakawin Wṛttasañcaya, Mpu Tanakung worships her as Wagīśwari (Queen of the Words). In addition, in the manucript called Tutur Aji Saraswati, the name Saraswati is one of the three divine powers called Sang Hyang Tiga Jñāna (The Holy Three Knowledge), i.e. Sang Hyang Guru Reka, Sang Hyang Kawīśwara and Sang Hyang Saraswati. All three are embodiments of śabda (speech), bayu (breath), and iḍĕp (mind).

It is also stated that Sang Hyang Sarasvati is the body of knowledge (sang hyang saraswati rumaga widyā). Like the human body, knowledge has a gross body (sakala) and a subtle body (niṣkala). The gross body of knowledge is books or lontar. On this day, the body (or vessel) of knowledge is respected by being worshipped. So worshiping books on Saraswati Day is a form of respect for the essence of the book, namely knowledge itself. Since at this time she is respected, she is not read.

Then the subtle body of knowledge is our own heart and mind. In connection with the tradition on Saraswati Day, it is not allowed to read books, maybe it means that we are reminded to occasionally explore the sources of knowledge within ourselves, which are in our hearts and which are the essence of our minds. According to C. Hooykaas’s notes, even though books are not read during the day, it is recommended that they have scientific discussions at night. This further strengthens the conclusion. Through discussion, we dig up information within ourselves.

The Mystical Aspects of Saraswati in Balinese Tradition

The Kawi Wiku (poet-priest) in the past also used to worship Sang Hyang Sarasvati who resided in the lotus flower in their heart (pinrih ring citta munggw ing sarasija ri dalĕm twas lanenastawangku), as chanted by Mpu Tanakung in Kakawin Wṛttasañcaya. Meanwhile, from the Kakawin Dharma Shunya, we can conclude that a True Scholar is one whose mind is already one with Sarasvati (yukti nikang saraswati huwus ri hiḍĕp ira wiśeṣa tan kasah).

When Sang Hyang Saraswati unites with the mind, then the learner will become kasaraswaten (Sarasvati-ed). According to the Chronicle of Pande Serongga, the word kasaraswaten means two things; first, people whose speech is powerful, second, people who have really mastered the knowledge being studied. 

Thus, the goal of learning is to be kasaraswaten. Learning will always produce new knowledge, but the type of knowledge that is produced can be nectar, it can also be a poison. In its traditional designation, it’s either samyakjñāna (ultimate knowledge) or bhrantajñāna (confusing knowledge). Kasaraswaten is those who learn and produce useful knowledge for themselves and those around them.

Both Sarasvati as symbolism for words and knowledge lead to the discourse of akṣara (letters). Through akṣara words are built. Through akṣara also knowledge is conveyed. In fact, when viewed in the context of (Tantric) yoga, akṣara has a mystical aspect, through which consciousness is transformed. Human beings are called living akṣara.

Humans are also called a book. Therefore, humans are containers of knowledge, a living-book (pustaka-janma). In Balinese tradition, it is widely known as scribeless manuscripts (lontar tan patulis). I discuss these two topics in detail in my book, Ilmu Tantra Bali (Volume 2). The lontar texts that discuss akṣara-yoga are usually entitled “Sang Hyang Aji Sarasvati (The Revered Saraswati Knowledge).” This further emphasizes the role of Saraswati as akṣara.

From the aforementioned description, it can be concluded that Saraswati in Balinese religious images is not limited to the figure of Puraṇa, but already represents the broader ideas of Balinese mysticism. Saraswati is not the goddess of knowledge, but knowledge itself. True knowledge is within, in the secret caves in the depths of the heart (parama guhya). It was in that cave that Saraswati resided, so that was where she was worshiped.

When it comes to vessel of knowledge, one of them is a book. However, the self and the whole of life too are books that can be read through clarity of mind. Those who unite with the Knowledge (Saraswati) will embody this mystical conception, become Kasaraswaten. These people are not only adept but truly mastered (prajñā).

Thank you.
Mogi siddha siddhi rudeaswaten.